By Debby Klein
I am a survivor of suicide. I have made five serious attempts on my life while experiencing overwhelming depression. I talk about it as one way of challenging the taboo and to open up meaningful conversations on the subject.
Not every suicide is preventable, but many are if we are prepared to challenge the stigma and create dialogue where people can talk about their darkest feelings. Many of us who make attempts on our lives don’t actually want to die, but just want the pain to stop and dying can seem the only way of achieving that. Maurizio Pompili wrote, ‘suicide is best understood not so much as a movement towards death as it is a movement away from something, and that something is always the same: intolerable emotion, unendurable pain, or unacceptable anguish.’ These things are difficult to talk about and difficult to hear; feeling suicidal is one of the loneliest places you can be.
What are your thoughts when you think about suicide? What do you think about people who attempt or die by suicide? Being aware of how we feel when we think about suicide is a good place to start the conversation. This year’s theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘creating hope through action.’ One action on both an individual and community level is to challenge attitudes that will help break down barriers; to stop seeing suicidal acts as sinful, selfish, stupid or cowardly, but as a response to unendurable pain. Are we open to people talking about their suicidal feelings? Fear may exist on both sides – the person having suicidal thoughts may fear being judged and not listened to, and the listener may be overwhelmed by wanting to dismiss those feelings or to save that person.
Despite the universality of this issue, we still struggle to talk about suicide openly or to offer adequate care or resources. Talking to someone about distress and suicidal feelings requires similar qualities to discussing any difficult issue. That person may be feeling despair, frustration, shame, anxiety, devastation and acute emotional pain, but perhaps though through a simple conversation we may be able to offer some degree of hope and relief. We need to drop the idea that we need to fix things and open up to really hearing what someone is experiencing. Letting go of fear and having the empathy and courage to connect with someone’s pain is very powerful. In some cases it might save a life.
Another way to take action is to respond to the risk factors or causes of suicidal behaviour. The reasons people attempt or die by suicide are many and varied, however there are trends. Men, especially middle-aged men, have the highest rate of suicide universally. The reasons are complex but some cited in research by Samaritans include challenges of mid life, loneliness, masculinity and emotional illiteracy. It seems in part that men are dying because they’ve not been taught how to reach out and/or because of some of the intolerable pressures in society to be a ‘successful’ man.
Another worrying trend is that globally and nationally areas of higher socio-economic deprivation have higher suicide rates. Samaritans called their 2017 report on the subject, ‘Dying from Inequality.’ Liz Kessler wrote, ’Talking is not enough. If a person’s suicidality is rooted in poverty, racism, trauma, isolation or some other form of oppression – talking alone can never solve that. It can get the person to survive the next moment. But it won’t make the causes of their suicidality go away.’ Recovery in the Bin estimate that many people are dying or at risk of suicide because of benefits cuts or withdrawal leaving them in poverty. Creating hope through action should involve creating a system that treats everyone, but especially vulnerable people, with dignity, fairness and respect.
And hope? Hope in relation to suicide is complex. It’s not sugar coated. I still have suicidal feelings from time to time but I’m now committed to staying alive and working them through. My hope is that society and communities can be places where suicide is talked about openly without stigma, where people can talk about their darkest feelings without being judged. When we commit our collective energy to mutual wellbeing, education, and inclusivity, we have the ability to effect real impact on the unacceptable suicide statistics within our community and beyond.
About the author
Debby volunteers for Jami, the Jewish Community’s mental health service, where she talks to people in distress; and for the Listening Place, the charity that offers face-to-face support for those who feel ‘life is no longer worth living’. The Listening Place helps people with suicidal thoughts to openly discuss, examine and reflect upon their experience and support more than a thousand people each year. Jami was the place that helped Debby to reflect on her experience and past traumas without being judged.
Reach out to stay safe.
If you are struggling to cope or need immediate help:
- Contact Shout via their 24/7 free text service, text Jami to 85258
- Phone Samaritans on Freephone 116 123 (24/7) or the Jewish Helpline on 0800 652 9249
- For young people under 35 call Papyrus HOPELINE UK on 0800 068 41 41 or text 07860 039 967
- If anyone is in immediate danger call 999 or NHS Direct on 111
- For more information visit jamiuk.org
This blog was first published in The JC on World Suicide Prevention Day 10 September 2021.